After spending nearly every waking hour of several consecutive days playing Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II and marveling at the detail of the unit models, environments, and weapon effects, I’m surprised and more than a little disappointed by the fact that to date, no one has made a great hybrid strategy-shooter game.
Just a couple of years ago it seemed like the idea of being able to assume first- or third-person control of a unit and run amok on the battlefield was poised to become a standard feature, but instead modern RTS games have taken far more cues from the role-playing genre. It’s nothing new—RPG-lite mechanics have been around since WarCraft III’s hero units began increasing in strength and gaining new powers as they leveled up from experience (Sins of a Solar Empire’s capital ships are perhaps the most recent and notable example), but now it’s gotten to the point where Dawn of War II is more a party action RPG along the lines of Freedom Force than what you’d conventionally consider to be an RTS. That’s not a complaint, by any means (I love me some Freedom Force, after all, and hopefully when 2K Boston’s Ken Levine becomes all-powerful, he’ll make the third installment), but while these features have me working harder to keep my soldiers alive, it’s not letting me get my hands dirty when I’m feeling too detached from the action. What I wouldn’t have given to try out the Force Commander’s jump-jets and chainsaw sword for myself!
Zooming into a DoWII battle like this really makes me want to take control of a unit and join the fray
Even though I’m virtually the only critic to give it a positive review (every reviewer has at least one of those), I maintain that the game that has come closest to successfully hybridizing the genres is 2006’s Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War, which featured a “Hero Command Mode.” For a limited time, you could jump into your hero unit’s shoes and hack and slash your way through the enemy’s legions. It wasn’t a perfect implementation, but it was still pretty awesome to finally get to do some damage first-hand. I was certain we’d see more of that pop up in the near future, but here we are three years later and the only game that has even tried since then was Field Ops, a modern warfare RTS/FPS hybrid. And that one completely fizzled out without so much as a cancelation notice.
While visiting Relic a few months back, I mentioned to Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts Lead Designer Josh Mosqueria that the graphics in CoH are so good they make me want to jump down to ground level and play it as a shooter. He’d had the same thought, and asked the engineers about it, but found that it wasn’t technically feasible with their Essence engine. Instead, they’ve cooked up a “Direct Fire Mode” for the upcoming CoH: Tales of Valor, which allows players to manually control a tank’s turret and fire with a mouse click. It’s probably the next best thing if you zoom in close, but still not quite as satisfying.
Rise & Fall has its flaws, but Hero Command is a feature worthy of C&C or StarCraft
Even though it’s not exactly the same thing (because you can’t switch between modes at will), this is a great time to mention that a different take on FPS/RTS hybridization, Savage 2: A Tortured Soul, has been made free-to-play. Grab it from S2 GAMES
January 27, 2009